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Russia’s intel agency arrests 8 people and blames Ukraine for Crimean bridge blast

The federal security service FSB offered its version of events leading to the explosion on the Kerch Bridge, which dealt a strategic and symbolic blow to the Kremlin.

Russia’s domestic intelligence service said Wednesday it had arrested eight people in connection with a blast that damaged a key bridge to the annexed Crimean Peninsula, blaming Ukraine for the incident that dealt a high-profile blow to President Vladimir Putin. 

The weekend explosion, which Russian investigators said killed three people and was caused by a truck bomb, temporarily halted train and car traffic over the Kerch Bridge — a structure with huge strategic and symbolic value to the Kremlin.

In a press release Wednesday, the FSB said Ukraine’s military intelligence and its chief, Kyrylo Budanov, were behind the attack. It also said five Russian citizens, as well as three citizens of Ukraine and Armenia, who were involved in the operation had been detained.

NBC News could not verify the claims, which Kyiv immediately dismissed.

According to the Russian intelligence service, the explosive device that was used to blow up the bridge was concealed in rolls of construction film, and was shipped from Ukraine's Black Sea port of Odesa to Bulgaria in early August before being moved through Georgia and Armenia and into Russia earlier this month. The explosive was detonated as it was being carried in a truck toward Crimea on Saturday, the FSB said. All the while, Ukrainian agents were in control of the operation, it added.

A press officer for Ukraine's military intelligence service, Andrii Yusov, declined to comment, telling NBC News: "We are not commenting on the statements made by terrorists."

Ukrainian Chief of Defence Intelligence, Major-General Kyrylo Budanov
Ukraine's chief of defense intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov.Gian Marco Benedetto / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Kyiv has not taken responsibility for the blast, but some high-ranking Ukrainian officials cheered the damage to the bridge, which has served as a key supply route for Russian forces, as well as a marker of Putin's claims to the region he illegally annexed in 2014.

Ukraine and most countries don’t recognize that annexation and consider Crimea part of Ukrainian territory. Kyiv has vowed to reclaim the peninsula, along with all the territory occupied by Russian forces since the start of the full-scale invasion nearly eight months ago.

Putin swiftly labeled the bridge blast “terrorism” and boasted that the deadly aerial barrage his military unleashed on Ukrainian cities this week was an act of revenge.

Image:
Smoke rises from the bridge linking Crimea and Russia after Saturday's blast.AP

The 12-mile Kerch Bridge, which links the annexed Crimean Peninsula to mainland Russia, was personally inaugurated by Putin in 2018.

While Ukraine has stepped up its efforts to strike behind Russian lines, hitting the bridge has been widely considered a “red line” for the Kremlin. Saturday's explosion escalated calls from hard-liners for a tough response, putting more pressure on Putin after weeks of unprecedented criticism of his military leadership.

Meanwhile, Crimean authorities have been dealing with the fallout from the incident.

The Moscow-installed governor of Crimea, Sergei Aksenov, said Tuesday that the movement of trucks on the bridge is expected to resume by the end of the week, while the work to repair the damage will likely take at least 1 1/2 months. 

He said local authorities had also heightened the security alert level in the region.

The FSB is the main successor to the powerful Soviet-era KGB, of which Putin was a member during the Cold War.

The agency was just as swift at claiming it had solved an attack that killed the daughter of a prominent Russian ultranationalist in August. The security agency also blamed Ukraine’s secret services for killing Daria Dugina — an allegation that Kyiv denied — and singled out the alleged perpetrators in a public announcement days after that incident.